Damask Teapot, 7 1/2 in. (19 cm) in height, porcelain, 2022.

When I begin a cycle of work, I place it in the context of someone’s life. I see the finished pieces in a cupboard, on a dinner table, or on a writing desk. It’s important to me that my work is used, that the time spent bringing a pot to life is an investment in someone else’s enjoyment of their daily life.

1 At the top of the image are two foam-lined bead-organizer boxes holding the colored-clay gradients in plastic-clay form. The bottom left of the image shows a small plaster slab used to dry out slip to the plastic-clay state, and the small round containers hold colored clay in slip form.

Function and form work together in my mind, and a of directly informs the design of my pots. I strive to make the visual and tactile experience work together, so the user is invited to return and investigate further. The daily use of functional objects strengthens connections to our personal history. Decorating our environment—our homes, our dishes, our clothes, and the spaces we use—cultivates celebration of the meditation present in daily life.

2 Stamp a pattern on the form right after throwing. 3 Add a layer of slip to the interior of the form after stamping, in preparation for expansion.

My patterns are directly inspired by historical pattern work and domestic decorative motifs. I am particularly drawn to the intricate detailing that characterizes European cathedrals. Through this connection, I integrate my family and heritage into my work. While historical pattern work is meant to inspire awe, grandeur, and reverence, I contradict this grand display and scale it down to fit the ordinary, to elevate and explore the tranquility of living moment to moment.

Finding Color and Stamps in the Patterns Around Us

I consider my color gradients and glaze prior to starting a making cycle. Both of these elements inform one another because the colors of the dots that resemble tufting on upholstery must not be too neutralized by the glaze. 

4 Expand the form with a throwing stick. 5 Add dots to the expanded form.

This color investigation is an ongoing and iterative process. I put test tiles in every firing, looking ahead to the next production cycle. The glaze that originated this cycle was a semi-matte satin clear. I love the feeling of satin surfaces, but the glaze still has to pool appropriately to accentuate the stamped pattern and the gradient dots. From that base glaze, I rigorously test new oxides and Mason stains, often referring to my preliminary tests to select new colors. Through trial and error and much testing, I continue to develop my working palette.

6 Trim the lid smooth in preparation for stamping. 7 Stamp the lid. 7 Stamp the lid.

I am drawn to vintage colors and am inspired by the contrasting color schemes from particular eras, especially old kitchens from the 1950s and older kitchenware. I test potential dot-gradient combinations on a magnet board. I affix a magnet to each color test and arrange them into a quadraxial-blend configuration on the board and choose individual tiles to create combinations that explore other unrealized color ideas. The goal is to select colors for the dots that are interesting to the eye when combined on a piece yet still provide contrast and do not average out to being too neutralized in the secondary colors (created by mixing primary points in the blend). I prefer when the gradient flows continuously around the form, ensuring the eye can travel in a meditative loop when moving over the entirety of the pot.

8 The stamped lid, before adding colored dots. 9 Apply colored dots to the stamped lid.

To make gradients for the dots, I add stains, by weight, to porcelain dry mix. I use a combination of Mason stains, Spectrum stains, and US pigment encapsulated stains to achieve my color palettes. After the stain is added, I store that dry-mixed, stained-porcelain powder clay until I am ready to measure it out into a color palette and reconstitute it into a slip. 

Several days before throwing, the stored, stained dry mixes are weighed out and combined to create a complete color palette, and the wet slip rests for 24 hours to allow the stain particles to fully rehydrate. To prepare the clay for the dot-application process, I dry out small quantities of this stained slip on a plaster block to plastic-clay consistency and store it in a foam-lined bead organizer, to maintain humidity (1). I also keep all the slips from past work in storage so I can revisit a palette, but I try to stick to using one or two main palettes during a cycle of work. 

10 The finished lid after the knob and Kanthal wire hardware are attached.

My stamps must also be ready before any clay touches the wheel. I make my own stamps by collecting samples of my favorite historical fabric and architectural patterns. I also spend time identifying patterns in old public-domain pattern books that particularly speak to me or patterns in my surroundings that I document in photographs. Then, I isolate specific details using image-editing software and construct the final interior pattern design as a vector file. After fitting the interior images into a suitable outside stamp shape, I have the final patterns laser cut. Finally, I assemble the stamp and attach a functional handle made from a square or rectangular piece of the laser-cut material that is just tall enough to hold on to.

Constructing the Form

I begin by throwing forms on the wheel, keeping in mind that volume will be added to the pot after the stamps are applied. When making a lidded form, I start with a little less than 1 pound, and I keep enough clay at the lip to split the rim to create a gallery, and also for some extra support during the stamping and expanding process. I leave the pot on the bat after throwing. Once I can handle the piece without leaving fingerprints, but it’s still pre-leather hard, I place the pot (still on the bat) on a banding wheel to be stamped.

To stamp on a curved surface, I tack the stamp in place at the top and press all four corners into the clay, supporting the interior surface of the pot’s wall with the fingers of my other hand (2). Starting at the top of the pot, I stamp all the way around. The key to even spacing is looking forward at about the halfway point around the pot to gauge how much space needs to be equalized. The stamps do not have to be exactly even, as the spacing can be cheated a little closer or farther depending on how much space is left over. The dots and indent will cover any significant gaps. If the jar is significantly wider in the middle than on the top or bottom, I use different sizes of the same pattern stamp to ensure the number of stamps and the spacing is consistent, even if there is a change in circumference.

11 Smooth the outside of the foot with your fingers after trimming. 12 Smooth the inside of the foot with your fingers after trimming.

After stamping, I put the jar back on the wheel to expand it from the inside, using a throwing stick to bring it into its final shape (3, 4). Immediately after expansion, while the wall is still pre-leather hard, it is time to apply the dots, and I pull out my prepared colored clay gradients. I use a half-sphere mold to insert a dot into the surface of the jar, supporting the interior of the clay under each dot. The stained inserts are placed between the stamped elements to connect the pattern, bringing more movement to the work and reminding me of upholstered furniture (5). 

13 Cut the scallops in the lip of the jar. 14 The finished box before bisque firing.

I throw lids off the hump, upside down as a low bowl shape. Then, I trim them to a continuous curve (6) before stamping and adding dots (7–9). Stamping and dotting on the lid is done a little later in drying to avoid deforming the thin lid so that it still fits the gallery on the pot. Even so, I still make a few lids for each jar. The final, largest dot is applied at the center of the lid, and acts as a base for the wire knob. I bend Kanthal wire into soft geometric shapes to create the wire knob, which is inserted into the base dot of stained clay at the apex of the lid (10). 

Trimming of the body of the lidded form happens once the pots have reached leather hard. I trim a small curve in the foot so it flares out gently at the bottom and any running glaze drips will be caught, preventing them from sticking to the kiln shelf. I smooth the inside and outside edge of the trimmed foot ring with my fingers (11, 12). Next, I flip the pot right side up and cut scallop shapes into the rim (13). Finally, I place the lid on the pot and allow them to dry together slowly (14).  

15 Dip the bisque-fired body of the jar in glaze. Tufted Green Jar, 5 in. (13 cm) in height, porcelain, 2022.

Once the pots are bone dry, I bisque fire them to cone 06. After bisque firing, any sharp edges are wet sanded off and the feet are also wet sanded. 

Glazing and Firing

I wax the feet and galleries with a wax-plus-alumina-hydrate mix to help keep the feet from plucking (where some fragments of highly fluxed porcelains stick to the kiln shelf during the firing and break off of the pot). I then line the interior in a clear glaze. Then the pots are dipped rim first in a stained satin glaze. The specific gravity of the satin glaze is kept at 1.3 so that it reaches the ideal thickness on a pot with a two-second dip into the glaze slurry. If the glaze is too thick (higher specific gravity), it crawls, and if it is too thin (lower specific gravity), it won’t have a good color payoff. I fire the glazed pots in an electric kiln to a hot cone 6. 

White Damask Cup, 4 in. (10 cm) in height, porcelain, 2022. Tufted Butter Dish, 6 1/2 in. (17 cm) in diameter, white stoneware, 2021.

the author 
Charlotte Grenier is a full-time utilitarian potter, making wheel-thrown and altered pots in Ypsilanti, Michigan. She holds a BA in ceramics from Michigan State University and currently teaches in the greater Ann Arbor area. She is interested in making stamps that evoke past eras of design and surfaces reminiscent of soft, textural, tufted furniture. While most of her time is spent in the studio and classroom, Grenier also enjoys the technical aspects of baking and doting on her studio cats. To learn more, visit www.charlottegrenier.com.